Energy and Global Warming News for September 10: Nukes will be part of Senate energy bill, Boxer says

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Nukes Will Be Part of Senate Energy Bill, Boxer Says

Barbara Boxer, the chairwoman of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, said today “there will be a nuclear title in the bill,” reports our colleague Siobhan Hughes at Dow Jones Newswires.

While nuclear power may not be the make-or-break issue for the Senate bill””the health care debate probably takes that honor””it is a crucial part of attracting Republican support for new energy measures. Whether it’s enough is still anybody’s guess.

Led by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, Senate Republicans have been clamoring for more federal support for nuclear power. Indeed, Sen. Alexander doesn’t miss a chance to tout nuclear power as an emissions-free power source on par with wind or solar power.

Ms. Boxer didn’t elaborate on her comments, Dow Jones notes. Previously, she’d said that a higher cost for carbon-which would make coal-fired plants less attractive and nuclear plants more attractive-would do the trick. More support for nuclear power could take many shapes such as expanded federal loan guarantees or the inclusion of nuclear power in renewable-energy standards.

Yes, the nuclear title will mostly be MDT (Money Down the Toilet) stuff, but other than the taxpayers actually doling out $10 billion (or more!) per plant, I can’t see many nukes being built no matter what is in the nuclear title because they just cost too damn much (see “Nuclear Bombshell: $26 Billion cost “” $10,800 per kilowatt! “” killed Ontario nuclear bid“) — no matter what EPA and some other models say.  Nukes appear to be the minimum price for admission for some moderate Democrats and a few Republicans (“Lamar Alexander (R-TN) calls nuclear “the cheap clean energy solution,” renews GOP call for 100 new nukes, which would cost some $1 trillion“) — particularly McCain.

I take this as a good sign that Boxer is it really trying to start with a bill that could ultimately be passed.  I’d also expect a modified ‘price collar’, which could be both a useful addition to the bill and a key way to get more votes, depending on how it is written.

I don’t, however, think you are going to see nuclear power included in the renewable energy standard — but you might see an addition to the standard that goes beyond the renewable and efficiency standard and includes low carbon energy.

$4.1 Billion in Orders for Thin-Film Solar

Since its founding in 2002, Nanosolar has raised a lot of money – half a billion dollars to date – and made a lot of noise about upending the solar industry, but the Silicon Valley start-up has been a bit vague on specifics about why it’s the next big green thing.

On Wednesday, Nanosolar pulled back the curtain on its thin-film photovoltaic cell technology “” which it claims is more efficient and less expensive than that of industry leader First Solar “” and announced that it has secured $4.1 billion in orders for its solar panels.

Martin Roscheisen, Nanosolar’s chief executive, said customers included solar power plant developers like NextLight, AES Solar and Beck Energy of Germany.

The typical Nanosolar farm will be between 2 and 20 megawatts in size, Mr. Roscheisen said in an e-mail message from Germany, where he was attending the opening of Nanosolar’s new factory near Berlin. “This is a sweet spot in terms of ease of permitting and distributed deployment without having to tax the transmission infrastructure.”

Spanish Fly: Iberdrola Raises $2 Billion for U.S. Clean-Energy Investment

Iberdrola, the big Spanish renewable-energy company, got plenty of U.S. government money to help its clean-energy push. Now, Iberdrola’s got even more-$2 billion from a bond issue yesterday with institutional investors that’s earmarked for even more clean-energy investment in the U.S.

The cash will strengthen Iberdrola’s push to build more wind farms in the U.S., already the world’s biggest market for wind power and where Iberdrola is the second-biggest operator after FPL’s NextEra Energy.

The “principal objective” of the bond issue is “to keep growing in a market which [Iberdrola] considers strategic,” the company said.

The money might also help Iberdrola fight off grumblings that foreign companies are scooping up U.S. taxpayer money meant to jumpstart the clean-energy revolution; Iberdrola snagged more than half of the first $500 million in clean-energy grants announced last week.

Iberdrola chairman Ignacio Sanchez Galan said in a video interview that the operation “closes the circle.” “American capital, supported by the government’s plans, is being invested in America and creating wealth and jobs in the country, thanks to Iberdrola.”

According to a regulatory filing with the Spanish stock-market watchdog, Iberdrola sold two bond tranches to institutional investors. The first is a 5-year note paying 3.8% interest and the second is a 10-year note paying 5% interest. Iberdrola said the issue was more than three times oversubscribed.

Chicago Climate Exchange Seeks D.C. Muscle on Climate Bill

The Chicago Climate Exchange has hired its first Washington, D.C., lobbyists in an apparent effort to influence climate legislation.

According to congressional lobbying disclosures, the exchange this summer secured (pdf) both McLeod, Watkinson & Miller and Patton Boggs to play a role in climate legislation now pending in the Senate. Those looking out for the exchange’s interests include former Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for International Affairs and Commodity Programs Robert Green.

Officials with the Chicago Climate Exchange, also known as CCX, declined requests for an interview.

“We’re advocating for a well-designed cap-and-trade system in the United States,” CCX spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said in an e-mailed statement regarding the lobbying hires.

But the political move by North America’s largest trading system for greenhouse gas credits is sparking concern among analysts who say CCX might provide a blueprint for a mandatory federal cap-and-trade system. Many said they are worried by three years of news reports that the exchange often relies on inadequate methods of measuring and verifying emission reductions, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Farm groups and other supporters say the exchange does an excellent job of protecting the environment. But critics fear that the lobbying push, if successful, could weaken the integrity of any global warming bill emerging from Congress.

“The Chicago Climate Exchange could substantially undermine the value and accomplishments of an entire cap-and-trade program,” said Kenneth Richards, an associate professor at Indiana University who has written about the exchange. “They could help create a system where we spend a lot of money and not get many reductions.”

More in Europe Look to Carbon Tax to Curb Emissions

Economists have long seen a carbon tax as a good idea because of its simplicity: Polluters pay at a level that is set by decree.

But the idea never caught on widely in the United States or Europe, where governments jealously guard their autonomy on taxes. Industries lobbied for a market-based system called cap and trade instead, which they helped to design and from which some have profited handsomely.

Now, with only modest progress so far in meeting goals set for greenhouse gas reduction, the carbon tax may be making a comeback.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, on Thursday unveiled details of a carbon tax that would raise the cost of driving a car or heating a home, all with the aim of encouraging conservation and thus reducing France’s overall emissions. The tax was initially set at 17 euros, or $24.70, per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, Reuters reported.

The plan, widely previewed in recent weeks by French ministers, still must be debated by lawmakers. But it has already ignited a political storm among heavily taxed consumers, in a country that is just starting to emerge from recession.

Climate insecurity: Military implications must be part of Congress’ discussion of climate change legislation

The debate over climate change legislation is beginning to heat up. The American Clean Energy and Security Act was passed by the House and is now before the Senate. The debate on this issue typically takes the form of environmental concerns about global warming pitted against economic fears about the cost of reducing greenhouse gases. It is often framed in left-right terms. But as Americans think about whether to support this legislation, they should ponder the national security implications of climate change.

The recognition that global warming will increase the threats to our national security and place ever greater demands on our military is not new. The Bush administration acknowledged the issue in the 2006 National Security Strategy. A national security think tank comprising retired military officers, including Marine General Anthony Zinni, issued a report on the subject in 2007, identifying the various ways in which man-made climate change will directly affect national security.

Areas of the globe will be increasingly ravaged by drought, on the one hand, and flooding from extreme storms and rising sea levels on the other. These will cause mass migrations of refugees, the breakdown of societies and resulting conflict over reduced arable land, living space and other resources. The conflict in Sudan today is in part caused by the prolonged drought in the region. The massive movement of refugees that followed both the recent flooding in Bangladesh and the typhoon that hit Myanmar are other examples of such climate-related disruption. Climate change is seen as a “threat multiplier” that intensifies instability and sows the seeds of conflict.

Such instability and conflict will affect the United States. Armed conflict and massive political upheavals pose the risk of ever-wider hostilities and thus draw the world powers into the fray if only to contain it. Dislocation and instability will also lead to the failure of states, which become incubators for the development of other threats. Consider Somalia in the 1990s and again today. The failed state of Afghanistan in the 1990s provided a base for the planning and launching of the Sept. 11 attacks. The initial failure of Afghanistan was not caused by global warming, but a study conducted for the National Intelligence Council predicts that climate change raises the risk of many more failed states in the future.

The Pentagon and the State Department increasingly factor these expected ramifications of man-made climate change into their strategic planning and policy development. But the impact on national security should also be part of the broader debate on emissions policy. The greater and more rapid the climate change, the more quickly these threats will emerge – and the greater will be the impact on our national security.

Groups want stronger rules in environmental bill

Two leading environmental groups and a large labor union joined in Trenton yesterday, urging New Jersey’s congressional leaders to push stronger energy efficiency provisions in proposed federal climate change legislation, citing a new report that claims such measures could create 539,000 jobs in the next 20 years.

Simply making houses and businesses more energy efficient by 2030 would create 34,500 jobs in the Garden State alone, according to a study released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy or ACEEE, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit energy group that also said household energy costs will be reduced along with carbon emissions blamed for inducing global climate change.

The study was embraced by members of Environment New Jersey and the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, who said more incentives for weatherizing homes and businesses should be included in provisions of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, a controversial energy bill which passed Congress in June and is before the Senate.

“This report is groundbreaking. It supports everything many of us have been saying about energy efficiency being the quickest and cleanest way to conserve energy, lower our use of fossil fuels and slow global warming,” said Doug O’Malley, field director for Environment New Jersey. “We don’t have to dream up a moon shot. We only need people and businesses to use better building materials and to make sure homes and business are more energy efficient.”

Climate clean-up not up to developing states only: OPEC

Oil-producing and developing countries should not bear the brunt of efforts to clean up the environment, the OPEC crude producers’ cartel insisted on Thursday, ahead of a major climate conference in December.

Developed countries “cannot shift the responsibility of cleaning the world or cleaning the environment on developing countries,” OPEC secretary-general Abdullah El-Badri told a press conference following a late-night meeting of the cartel at its Vienna headquarters.

Ministers of oil-producing countries met in the Austrian capital late Wednesday night — due to the Muslim fast of Ramadan — to review oil production, but also discussed the upcoming UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

“We don’t want them to penalise us because we are oil-producing countries,” El-Badri said of the other world powers taking part in the landmark summit.

“Yes, the environment is important, we are concerned about the environment, we are living in the same world and the environment also concerns us but we don’t want to be penalised,” he added.

Environmental interests have long been at odds with those of oil producers, promoting renewable energies over the more polluting fossil fuels.

Brazil says U.S. climate goal unacceptable

Brazil’s Environment Minister Carlos Minc said on Wednesday that U.S. targets for greenhouse gas emissions are unacceptably weak and that Brazil will place new restrictions on its huge farm sector to cut deforestation.

Brazil would also soon announce targets to substantially curb carbon emissions before a crucial global climate summit in Copenhagen in December, he said in an interview as part of the Reuters’ Climate Change and Alternative Energy Summit.

Criticizing the U.S. administration’s stated target of returning to its 1990 level of emissions by 2020, Minc said: “We don’t accept that, it’s very poor.”

“They have to come closer to something beyond a 20 percent reduction,” he said.

The South American nation is expected to play a key role in negotiations at the Copenhagen summit that will seek to frame a new international treaty on climate change. The United Nations climate talks aim to reach agreement on a post-Kyoto pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are blamed for global warming.

Minc said he was moderately optimistic but that a deal would not be easy.

10 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for September 10: Nukes will be part of Senate energy bill, Boxer says

  1. David B. Benson says:

    I would like to see a few fast reactors, Gen IV stuff, just to properly clean up our mess.

  2. Brewster says:

    The Gen IV nukes look very interstign, especially the fact that they will clean up earlier nukes’ mess.

    But I’m still frustrated by the lack of hard (or even semi-solid) numbers as to costs.

  3. David B. Benson says:

    Brewster — An article I read by engineers at INEEL stated about 4 fast reactors would be enough for the US to clean the mess; if started now the first would be complete in 15 years.

    Based on bid prices (and ongoing cost overruns during construction in Finland) for Gen III designs, I’ll estimate $30 billion in 2009 dollars for the first fast reactor in construction costs alone. I have no idea what the R&D costs would be. However, subsequent copies might be only $20 billion each?

    Anyway, this is not a cost effective way to generate electricity, but it is a cost effective way to clean up the mess.

  4. Brewster says:

    Good point, David, in my opinion just about the ONLY acceptable way to clean up the mess.

    Count the electricity as a bonus, and you’ve got a good case.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    Perhaps a way to clean up the mess, so perhaps something we should build a few decades from now?

    Right now we need as much non-carbon emitting electricity generation as quickly as we can get it.

    We need quick-to-the-grid applications such as wind and solar.

    We need to not dilute our ‘transition from fossil fuel’ funds by spending them on expensive projects that don’t do anything to reduce our carbon output by 2020.

    The pro-nuclear crowd says that we can safely leave radioactive waste in existing plants for years until it somewhat decays. If that’s the case, then we can leave it there until we get coal out of our grid and petroleum out of our personal vehicles. Then we can use a bit of the money saved from importing petroleum to build a couple of Gen IV garbage disposals.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Bob Wallace — Yes, but there are funds to do both, for example by reducing the outrageously large national security agencies.

  7. Bob Wallace says:

    David, I don’t think that an realistic answer. It’s likely there will be a fixed amount allocated for energy and we’re not going to see that money increased by pulling some money from defense. That’s just how it works.

    It’s going to be hard enough to get a good energy bill and funding to supplement renewable build out. Cutting the military budget would be opposed by all Republicans and quite a few Democrats. In fact, I would expect most Democrats to vote against cutting defense funds. For Democrats defense spending is often the third rail.

  8. Leland Palmer says:

    I don’t really like nukes because I read an article once in Scientific American, that said that if nuclear reactors were targeted in a thermonuclear war, the combination of the wide dispersal and fallout from the thermonuclear weapons with the witches’ brew of long lived isotopes from the reactors could raise atmospheric radioactivity enough to kill all human life in the northern hemisphere.

    So, a lot of the talk about how nuclear reactors are completely different from nuclear weapons turns out not to be the case.

    There is a catastrophic connection between thermonuclear weapons and nuclear reactors, but only during an already catastrophic thermonuclear war.

    Climate change, and the huge social disruption it is going to cause, probably increase the chances of thermonuclear war.

    Having said all of that, global warming scares me worse than thermonuclear war, and both scare me more than nuclear reactors by themselves.

    If we build the nukes, though, we ought to build the new generation of nuclear reactors with really thick, hardened containment domes, to at least make them hardened targets in a thermonuclear war, or bury them a thousand meters deep under the ground or inside mountains, or something. Inherent safety, rather than engineered safety, would also be nice, and a design that at least gave a chance of withstanding a close hit from a nuclear weapon.

    Trying to take all the factors into account, I think we ought to build the nuclear reactors, but harden the next generation of nuclear reactors, and get rid of above ground waste storage and other possible nuclear targets for thermonuclear weapons, by moving the nuclear waste underground ASAP, into Yucca Mountain or some other underground storage facility.

    We ought to take another look at breeder reactors, too, to see if they can be made safer.

    We also ought to look at the thorium/ U233 cycle, which has been proposed.

  9. Leland Palmer says:

    Another unanticipated side effect of global warming is that it makes a higher level of risk from other technologies acceptable, in order to “turn the corner” on the climate crisis.

    To me this means that Yucca Mountain is safe enough, and we just need to get on with underground storage of nuclear waste, accept the possibility of risks a thousand years in the future, and get it done.

    Here’s a paper on the use of high silica concretes (loosely related to ancient Roman concretes) for use in underground nuclear waste storage:

  10. Peter Wood says:

    A good way to modify the price collar / strategic reserve would be to increase the portion of allocated permits that go into the strategic reserve.